Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus

Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus (c. 155 BC – 91 BC) was an ancient Roman statesman and general, he was a leader of the Optimates, the conservative faction of the Roman Senate. He was a bitter political opponent of Gaius Marius. He was consul in 109 BC, in that capacity he commanded the Roman forces in Africa during the Jugurthine War. In 107 BC, he was displaced from his command by Marius. On his return he was granted a triumph and the cognomen Numidicus. He later became a censor, entering into exile in opposition to Marius. Metellus Numidicus enjoyed a reputation for integrity in an era when Roman politics was increasingly corrupt.[1]

Youth and cursus honorumEdit

The son of Lucius Caecilius Metellus Calvus, in his youth he was sent to Athens where he studied under Carneades, celebrated philosopher and great master of oratory. He returned ostensibly cultured and with brilliant oratorical skills.

He was quaestor in 126 BC, tribune of the plebs in 121 BC, aedile in 118 BC, praetor in 115 BC, Governor of Sicily in 114 BC, and elected consul in 109 BC.[2] Accused of extortion on leaving his governorship, the judges were so convinced of his good character that they dismissed the case against him unexamined.[1]

Metellus was generous in his support of the arts, sponsoring his friend the poet Archias. Cicero spoke highly of Metellus' oratorical skills.[1]

Jugurthine War and aristocratic politicsEdit

When Metellus was consul (in 109 with Marcus Junius Silanus), he took command of the war in Numidia against Jugurtha.[2] The war dragged out into a long and seemingly endless campaign as the Romans tried to inflict a decisive defeat on Jugurtha. Metellus gained just one important victory over Jugurtha at the Battle of the Muthul.[1] Metellus, having his command prorogued stayed in Numidia for another year (108), laying siege to Jugurthine holdouts. His second-in-command, Marius, designing to displace Metellus as commander in Numidia, spread rumours that Metellus was dragging out the Jugurthine War in order to retain his command; Marius returned to Rome to seek election as Consul (for the year 107). Winning the election, he returned to Numidia to take control of the war.[1] On his return to Rome, Metellus was surprised by the demonstrations of enthusiasm and recognition which he received from a faction of senators and the people who did not support Marius. He celebrated a triumph, acquiring the cognomen Numidicus, to Marius' irritation.

Metellus Numidicus became the main leader of the aristocratic faction, opposing the rapid political ascent of the populist Marius, who was favoured by the people because he finished the war in Numidia by the imprisonment and killing of Jugurtha (thanks to a stratagem of Sulla). Marius' reforms of the Roman Army, where he recruited Romans without property and loyal to their general, was a turning point in Roman history, and the reforms were bitterly opposed by Numidicus' conservative faction.

Metellus Numidicus was elected censor in 102 BC in partnership with his cousin Gaius Caecilius Metellus Caprarius.[2] During the censorship, he tried to expel Marius' ally Lucius Appuleius Saturninus from the Senate, but without success. Afterwards, Saturninus had his revenge when, having been elected tribune of the plebs, he and Marius proposed an agrarian law awarding land to Roman veterans, with an additional clause that obliged every senator to swear allegiance to the agrarian law, under penalty of expulsion from the Senate and a heavy fine. In the Senate, Marius first declared that he would never take the oath, in which Metellus seconded him; in the event, however, Marius and all other senators but Metellus took the oath. Rather than swear obedience to a law he opposed, Metellus Numidicus resigned his Senate seat and paid the corresponding fine.[1] After leaving the Forum, he said to his friends:

To do harm is proper of the evil spirits; to do good without taking risks is proper of the ordinary spirits; the man of heart never ever deflects from what is fair and honest, never looking to rewards or to threats.[3]

Exile and later lifeEdit

The tribune Saturninus proposed a law to exile Metellus Numidicus. Rather than face a confrontation between Saturninus' and his own supporters, who were prepared to defend him by force, Metellus departed into exile voluntarily, spending a year in Rhodes. He was accompanied into exile by a rhetorician, Lucius Aelius Praeconinus or Stilo, and pursued his study of philosophy while in Rhodes.[1]

Following the death of Saturninus and an electoral reverse for the popular party, the new tribune, Quintus Calidius, proposed to allow Metellus' return to Rome in 99 BC. His son, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius gained the cognomen Pius thanks to his faithful efforts in support of Calidius' proposal, which duly carried.[1] Metellus returned to Rome and to his houses at the Palatine Hill and the Via Tiburtina and lived there the rest of his days, intervening little in public affairs.

Cicero dubiously reports a rumour that Quintus Varius, the populist tribune of the plebs for 91 BC, ultimately poisoned Metellus – presumably Metellus Numidicus.[1]

Quotes by MetellusEdit

  • To do harm is proper of the evil spirits; to do good without taking risks is proper of the ordinary spirits; the man of heart never ever deflects from what is fair and honest, never looking to rewards or to threats.[3]
  • All men should not covet all things.[4]
  • If it would have been possible for us to suffer without a wife, Romans, we all would have been without this annoyance; But since nature has thus ordained so that it is not possible to live comfortably enough with them, nor can we live in any way without them (sometimes truncated to: "Women; can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em). Latin: "Si sine uxore pati possemus, Quirites, omnes ea molestia careremus; Set quoniam ita natura tradidit, ut nec cum illis satis commode, nec sine illis ullo modo vivi possit" [5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i William Smith, ed. (1867). "Metellus Numidicus". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
  2. ^ a b c CAECILIVS Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b Plutarch, Life of Marius.
  4. ^ Marc Hyden, Gaius Marius, p.45; Gaius Sallustius Crispus, Jugurthine War.
  5. ^ Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, Liber I VI.2


Preceded by Roman consul
109 BC
With: Marcus Junius Silanus
Succeeded by